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Here’s How To Wash Running Shoes (Without Aging Them)

Keep your kicks clean and fresh with these washing methods.

When you get a new pair of running shoes right out of the box, the shoes and shoelaces are bright and fresh and just begging you to lace them up and go for a run. 

However, after muddy trail runs or logging in miles on the road, those once bright, clean running shoes now have stubborn stains in the shoe’s upper, dirt buildup in the grooves of the outsole, shoelaces with grime in the eyelets, and a general stale smell.

When I first started running cross country, I saw dirty running shoes as a badge of honor and never thought about how to wash running shoes; I was a rugged runner, and I wanted my athletic shoes to show it!

But, cleaning running shoes isn’t just a matter of keeping away foul odors and maintaining the “new shoes“ look of your running shoes, it actually helps prolong the lifespan and functionality of the shoes themselves.

In this step-by-step guide to how to wash running shoes, we will discuss the best methods for cleaning and washing running shoes as well as what to avoid to keep them in the best shape possible for as long as possible.

How To Wash Running Shoes Without Aging Them.

Can You Wash Running Shoes In The Washing Machine?

The short answer is yes, you can wash running shoes in the washing machine, even though there are other methods I prefer to use that will extend the lifespan of your running shoes.

That said, if you want to use the washing machine, here are a few tips:

How To Wash Running Shoes In The Washing Machine

  • Spot clean stubborn stains before you put them in the washing machine. I use an old toothbrush with a little bit of mild laundry detergent or baking soda mixed in warm water.
  • Tie the laces of your running shoes before you put them in the washing machine. Loose shoelaces can get wound around the central spindle in an upright washer or the ends can get stuck in the drainage holes on the sides of a front-loading washing machine. This can cause the shoelaces to rip and, more importantly, damage your washing machine.
  • Make sure to put the running shoes in the washing machine on the gentle cycle. Vigorous spinning can damage the shoes’ materials and warp their shape.
  • Use low heat and mild detergent. High heat and astringent laundry detergent can damage the foam in the midsole, melt the adhesives, and ruin some of the materials in the shoe’s upper, such as suede and leather.
  • Avoid putting running shoes in front-loading washing machines. They can slam against the door and stop the cycle, or they can pop open the front and make a huge mess of soapy water all over your floor.
  • Consider putting the running shoes in a pillowcase or mesh bag for delicates before you put them in the washing machine.
  • Make sure to thoroughly air dry athletic shoes after they come out of the washer. Even if you get them cleaned, lingering moisture will cause mildew and bacteria to grow, leading to a terrible odor.

How Do You Wash Running Shoes?

So, if machine washing is your only option, it can be a viable method.

However, there are some better ways to clean dirty running shoes that pose less risk of damage to your shoes as well as to your expensive washing machine. 

Here is an overview of the steps for how to clean running shoes:

1. Gather your cleaning supplies (see below)
2. Brush excess dirt off
3. Scrub the outsole and midsole
4. Scrub the shoe’s upper
5. Soak your running shoes
6. Dry your running shoes

How To Wash Running Shoes Without Aging Them.

What Do You Need to Wash Running Shoes?

Depending on how elaborate you want to get with washing your running shoes, you can use different brushes and cloths to actually clean the dirt and grime buildup on the shoes before washing them.

Typically, I recommend the following cleaning materials:

  • A toothbrush or soft-bristled brush
  • A firm bristle brush, such as one you would scrub the bathtub with
  • A toothpick (if you want to get all the grime buildup out of the crevices)
  • 4 tablespoons of mild laundry detergent. I recommend natural laundry detergent. My favorite is Grove Collaborative Laundry Detergent.
  • A large bucket or your sink (but I wouldn’t recommend using the kitchen sink)
  • Towels or paper towels

How Do I Clean My Running Shoes?

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to hand-wash running shoes without a washing machine:

Cleaning Mildly Dirty Running Shoes

If your running shoes aren’t particularly dirty but you still want to give them a good cleaning, you can grab a dry brush and a damp cloth.

  1. First, clap the soles of the shoes together to remove excess dirt and mud.
  2. Then, take the brush and lightly buff the outsole and upper.
  3. Use your damp cloth to scrub any caked-on dirt.
  4. Remove the insoles and wipe them down with a damp cloth.
  5. Then, simply leave the shoes and the insoles separate in a well-ventilated area. You can put your shoes in direct sunlight, but only briefly. UV rays will kill bacteria,1Rezaie, A., Leite, G. G. S., Melmed, G. Y., Mathur, R., Villanueva-Millan, M. J., Parodi, G., Sin, J., Germano, J. F., Morales, W., Weitsman, S., Kim, S. Y., Park, J. H., Sakhaie, S., & Pimentel, M. (2020). Ultraviolet A light effectively reduces bacteria and viruses including coronavirus. PLOS ONE15(7), e0236199. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236199 but they can also damage the suede, leather, and other fabrics over time. I recommend 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Then, move your shoes out of the sunlight and let them air dry in front of a fan or a well-ventilated area.
How To Wash Running Shoes Without Aging Them. 4

How Do You Clean Muddy Running Shoes?

If your running shoes need a deep clean, you will need to wash them more thoroughly.

Here are the steps:

  1. Loosen the shoelaces and remove the insoles from the shoes.
  2. Clap the soles together to remove mud. Take a firm bristle brush and scrub the outsoles. 
  3. Use your toothbrush with a little bit of mild detergent or diluted hydrogen peroxide to scrub stubborn stains and scuffs inside the shoe and on the upper knit.
  4. Rinse or soak the insoles in a bowl of warm soapy water.
  5. You can use a toothpick to get all of the nooks and crannies on the outsole and around the eyelets where the shoelaces go. I sometimes use a Q-tip along the inside of the shoe once I have removed the insole so that I can clean along the seams.
  6. Then soak a cloth or paper towel in clean water (without any soap) and or under cold water in the sink to rinse off all of the debris.
  7. Then, place your shoes in a well-ventilated area to dry at air temperature or use a shoe dryer.
How To Wash Running Shoes Without Aging Them. 2 1

Drying wet running shoes is just as important as washing dirty running shoes because if you go through all the steps of washing running shoes and then allow them to sit in the moisture, they will start to grow bacteria and mildew and stinkier than before you wash them.

Do not put your shoes on a radiator, in a clothes dryer, or use a hairdryer. These heat sources are too hot and can damage the materials on your shoes.

You can hang them in front of a fan or put them briefly in the sun.

Personally, I use a shoe dryer as my primary way to dry shoes fast.

I bought it on Amazon, and it can dry two pairs of shoes simultaneously.

I don’t like stuffing my shoes with newspapers if I’ve just gone through the trouble of hand-washing them because the newsprint seems dirty! But this method also works fine, so it’s up to you.

Now that you’ve got our shoe-cleaning tips, check out our detailed guide on how to dry running shoes properly:

References

  • 1
    Rezaie, A., Leite, G. G. S., Melmed, G. Y., Mathur, R., Villanueva-Millan, M. J., Parodi, G., Sin, J., Germano, J. F., Morales, W., Weitsman, S., Kim, S. Y., Park, J. H., Sakhaie, S., & Pimentel, M. (2020). Ultraviolet A light effectively reduces bacteria and viruses including coronavirus. PLOS ONE15(7), e0236199. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236199
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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